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Forum
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The 21st century High School requires new models of teaching, learning, and meaningful assessment. Technology is one of the most exciting and significant ways to support and facilitate high school reform. Yet, according to the 2006-2007 Pennsylvania Technology Inventory survey (PaTI), 36% of respondents felt that the number of computers and other equipment to implement technology-supported learning opportunities was either non-existent or insufficient, and 34% reported that their technology was not located where it was needed for learning.

PaTI respondents also indicated that educators, in general, have more access to and regularly use technology tools such as application-specific software for administrative productivity (93%), communication and collaboration (82%), and professional growth (80%). However, 39% of educators reported that instructional support to assist them in the actual integration of technology in the classroom was still ‘Very Poor‘ or even ‘Non-Existent’. In fact, though a majority (78%) indicated that local data showed a positive correlation between technology and student achievement, when asked about student technology use within the classroom to communicate, collaborate, conceptualize, research, solve real-world problems, produce artifacts, or even to engage in drill and practice or tutorial support, respondents as a whole selected ‘Rarely or Never’ more often than any other reply.

Under Governor Edward G. Rendell’s vision and leadership, and using the platform for infrastructure established through the Commonwealth’s E-Fund and federal E-rate initiatives, Pennsylvania is currently building high-speed connectivity to all classrooms to enable 21st Century education to flourish. These connections will make it possible to support timely and global communication and collaboration in classrooms.

We now must take the next steps toward ensuring that schools take advantage of this infrastructure by putting appropriate tools into the hands of our students and providing extensive training and support for our teachers and administrators to make sure that these technologies are effectively used in classrooms. This work is the foundation of the Classrooms for the Future initiative.
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Our students live in a digital world and our schools must adapt instruction to complement learning in today’s environment. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to utilize research-based, technology-enabled practices to thrill, to inspire, and to capture the imagination of our students. Classrooms for the Future is about creating environments for deeper cognitive development through inquiry, real and relevant project-based learning, and differentiated instruction. In a Classroom for the Future, teachers are facilitators, guides, and co-investigators; students are producers, apprentices, and co-explorers. Classrooms for the Future are 21st century instructional settings using 21st century techniques to enable 21st century children to succeed.
To support this reform, Classrooms for the Future is designed to ensure there are laptops in public high school English, math, science and social studies classrooms across Pennsylvania. A robust companion professional development program guarantees that high school teachers are prepared to integrate these and other technologies into their instructional practices.
High school students are poised to enter the global marketplace or to continue their education beyond preK-12 and it is our obligation to prepare them, within a short window of opportunity, for a “flat world” in which opportunities for jobs and higher education are highly competitive. By focusing on high schools, we will be providing these critical 21st Century skills while expanding learning opportunities, creating relevant and personalized information-driven learning environments, and ensuring our other investments in the success of these students, such as the state’s Project 720, Dual Enrollment, Keystones: Technology Integrators, and Job Ready PA initiatives, are fully leveraged.

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Classrooms for the Future seeks to comparably equip core curricular classrooms in public high schools and comprehensive AVTS/CTCs across the Commonwealth; however, this initiative is not about what schools get – it’s about what they get out of it.

The introduction of technology into a classroom focuses, at first, on the technology as teachers and students alike become familiar with a new tool. However, once the novelty is gone technology can be used as commonly as a textbook or a pencil is used in today’s classrooms. Just as a teacher creates lesson plans based upon textbook passages or assigns written work, technology must be frequently and similarly employed if it is to become seamlessly integrated with teaching and learning.

Classrooms for the Future is about recognizing and embracing the need for reform, understanding the role of technology as a catalyst for, and adopting practices that may be unfamiliar.

For teachers, it can be about moving from lecturer to facilitator of student-driven work. But every destination begins with a single step and technology-enabled, project-based modules are a great way to start the journey. For instance -
  • A Social Studies teacher might have students create a weblog to identify views on the most significant causes of World War II which can then be used as theses for collaborative multimedia presentations.
  • Math teachers might use the design and construction of virtual stair systems as a meaningful, standards-based approach to bridge theory and practice.
  • English teachers might develop webquests with rubrics that support critical literacy and advanced research skills through producing digital movies, composing songs, or writing narrative essays on Langston Hughes’s poetry.
  • Science teachers might lead students on a NASA eMission where they need to analyze jet propulsion forces and cargo load requirements to outmaneuver a meteorite.
And for students, it can be about moving from passive listener to active learner through contextual immersion. For example, students might –
  • Examine artifacts of the antebellum South and then participate in web-based interactive discussions with anthropologists to better understand the cultural exigencies that lead to slavery.
  • Observe Martin Luther King delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech and then digitally produce a presentation that might have similar social and historical ramifications on a group of people today.
  • Travel underwater to discover sunken treasures of lost civilizations or the golden scales of a new species of fish through live streaming video from a research vessel.
  • Create a 'virtual' universe using online Hubble Space Telescope resources and calculate the event horizon around a black hole or the lifespan of a red dwarf star.
  • Take on a leadership role in a simulation that places the student at a particular historical moment, like Germany’s successful annexation of Austria in World War II. The student has to make economic, military and international and domestic policy decisions, each of which results its own consequences that may, or may not, match the historical record.
As evidenced by these examples, not only is technology relevant to the world in which we live, it can transform the learning experience – but it requires a fundamental shift in methodologies. Therefore, we have provided selected guidelines and indicators for developing 21st Century students, teachers, and instructional settings, as well as some recent research and reports on analogous programs, to assist you to build your Classrooms for the Future.

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